Photoshop is one of the most versatile editing softwares out there. But it’s also one of the most intimidating because of its huge amount of photo editing tools.
This article is here to help you. We’ve put together a list of best beginner tips to help you learn about editing photos.
I wish I had known many of these when I started using Photoshop!
1. Make Non-Destructive Edits With Photoshop Layers
One of the most powerful editing tools in Photoshop (PS) are layers. Layers are like sheets of paper that are stacked one on top of the other. There is a panel dedicated to layers.
When you open a photo in PS, you will just have the Background layer. This corresponds to the original photo.
Each layer you add will contain an adjustment or a part of the picture you are creating.
For example, on top of the background layer, you can add a layer that increases the exposure (read Tip 2 if you want to learn how it’s done).
On top of those two, you can add even more layers to make other adjustments to the photo like vibrance, saturation, etc.
You can stack as many layers as you like. The final photo is the result of all the layers together.
In Photoshop, if you work directly on your background picture, any change you do modifies the pixels of the original photo.
You should know that depending on the changes you make in the picture, you might not be able to undo it.
Setting up and editing through layers will allow you to edit your photo in a non-destructive way. This means that you can come back to the original one at any time. This is the best way to edit photos.
My first recommendation is to extra protect your original by always creating a first layer that simply duplicates it by pressing Ctrl+J (Cmd+J for mac users).
Then you can start adding other layers on top with your modifications.
Layers add a lot of flexibility to the workflow because you can:
- reorganise them (by click and dragging them);
- rename them by clicking on the layer’s name;
- modulate their intensity by adjusting their Opacity (using the Opacity slide);
- activate and deactivate them to check their effect (clicking on the eye icon);
- and delete them (dragging them to the trash icon).
2. Edit Pictures Using Adjustment Layers
An adjustment layer is an editing tool that allows you to do different types of modifications to your images. You can add them in two ways.
Click on the icon in the layer panel and then choose one of the adjustment layer options.
Or go to Layer>New adjustment layer and select one of the options.
The adjustment layer will appear on top of the previous ones you have. You can modify the adjustment using its properties panel. The changes will affect all the layers below.
There are so many adjustment layer types that you might feel a bit overwhelmed. Focus on some of the fundamental adjustments until you get used to Photoshop and feel like experimenting with others.
Some suitable options that affect the tonal range or the colour of your photo are Exposure, Curves, Vibrance or Hue/Saturation.
3. Select Areas of Your Images With the Marquee and Lasso Tools
You can select areas of your images in several different ways. For selecting areas with specific shapes, you can use the Marquee tool.
There is a rectangular shaped one. After right-clicking on the icon, you can select the Elliptical shape or even a single row/column Marquee tool.
You select the area by clicking on the starting point and dragging the cursor across the photo until you reach the desired size.
Another way of selecting areas is by using the Lasso Tool. With this feature, you can select a free area in your images.
There are several types of Lasso Tools.
With the Basic one (Lasso Tool) you can select areas by freehand. The Polygonal Lasso allows you to create edges by clicking on points. The Magnetic option is great to select along edges.
Click on the starting point of the selection and move your mouse. You will see that the selection line wrap the edge and Photoshop add points along the course of the mouse.
You can add points by clicking with the mouse or delete them by clicking the delete button. With any of the lasso tools, to complete the selection, you need to get to the first point and close the “circle”.
The mouse will turn into a magic wand. If you click on a spot, it will select all the similar ones. Doing so, it can select big areas at once.
You might have some spots that remain not selected. If so, press Shift while you click on them with the magic wand and they will also be added to the selection.
And if you want to remove any selection, you just need to press Ctrl+D (or Cmd+D in a Mac).
4. Use Masks to Edit Just a Portion of Your Photo
Masks allow you to make adjustments in just a selection of your photo. A mask “protects” the selected pixels from any editing tools you use in the adjustment layer.
Masks are automatically added with the adjustment curves. The mask is the white square next to the adjustment layer icon.
When working with masks. you play with the colours white and black. White means that the pixel is active, so it is affected by the adjustment layer modifications.
Black means that you mask it, meaning that the pixel is not affected by the adjustment layer.
But how to use white and black? With the brush tool, you add the mask by painting in black.
Pick a brush icon and adjust its size and hardness in the menu.
Make sure you have the black colour selected.
You will see that you are not adding black to the photo. You are adding black onto the mask to indicate the pixels you don’t want to be affected by the adjustment layer (transparent).
If you paint too much or you want to correct something, you can do it by painting in white.
There is also another way to create a mask. First, select the area you want to mask and while the selection is active, create the adjustment layer.
Photoshop will automatically create the mask with the selection.
5. Learn to Straighten a Crooked Photo
Straightening a crooked photo in Photoshop is easy. First, you need to use the Measure tool. If you don´t see it in your palette, it might be hidden under the Eyedropper tool.
To select it you need to right-click on the Eyedropper icon. A little menu appears with the other photo editing tools hidden behind.
We need to find in our photo a line that was supposed to be straight. It might be the horizon, a wall, a table. It will depend on the content of your image. Now we need to draw a line along with it.
Click on one side of the line and drag over the line until you reach to the end and then click again.
Photoshop measures the angle of this line in reference to the rest of the image. You can see the result in the Options Bar Menu.
Now select Image>Rotate Canvas>Arbitrary and write the angle you obtained.
Photoshop automatically fills with the obtained measurements the options in the Rotate Canvas Menu. Just check that they are correct and press OK.
When you straighten an image, it is common that you get some white canvas around.
You can get rid of it by cropping the image with the Crop Tool.
Click on one corner of the image and drag until you get the area you want to keep.
Then press Enter/Return to crop.
6. Lighten and Darken Just Certain Parts of Your Image
You can use the Dodge tool for making portions of the images lighter. This is handy when you don’t like the exposure you got straight from the camera.
When you select the icon, you can choose in the toolbar if aiming to the shadows, mid-tones or highlights. Photoshop will selectively lighten just those ones. You need to go over the area you want to make brighter with a brush.
In the photo below, I selectively lightened the mid-tones of the sunflower centre.
The Burn Tool is hidden under the Dodge Tool. It works exactly the same, but it is darkening the image instead of lightening it.
7. Remove Unwanted Objects With Content-Aware
There are different ways to Photoshop images to remove unwanted objects. One of my favourites is using the Content-Aware option.
Start by selecting the area with unwanted objects with any selecting tool.
Just make sure you are not in an adjustment layer when you make the selection. I like using the Lasso option.
Once selected, right-click and choose ‘Fill’.
A panel appears, and I select “Content-Aware” and “Normal” in Blending. I keep the Opacity at 100.
Photoshop is going to fill the area with the content it decides on after searching surrounding areas. And most of the times it does a pretty good job.
8. Add a Vignette to Drive Attention to the Centre of the Images
Vignette means darkening the corners of a photo. It drives the viewer’s attention to the centre of the image. You don’t have to add a vignette to all your images, but in some cases, it provides a nice result. Try not to exaggerate with it to keep a natural look.
Select the central area of your image. You are selecting the part that won’t have the vignette. Use the Elliptical marquee to do it.
Feather the selection to create a gradual darkening effect. Go to Select>Modify>Feather.
In the Feather Selection menu, you need to write a feather radius. It will depend on the image size, and you might need some trial and error. In my case, a radius of 200 pixels worked fine.
Photoshop will blur those pixels, making them blend with the background in a more natural way.
Now you need to invert the selection going to Select>Inverse.
Then add a curves adjustment layer and play around until you get the vignetting effect you like.
9. Save Photos in PSD to Keep All Your Changes
A very important part of photo editing is saving your file. If you want to keep editing later, you can save it as a Photoshop file (psd). This file will keep all your edits and layers.
Keep in mind that it has a huge file size. Go to File>Save and select PSD from all the options.
Use this option if you want to keep all the quality of the Photoshop file. If you want a smaller file, you can save your image as TIFF. That is another of the options in the “Save as” menu.
You will lose all the edit’s history and layers, so don’t save it in TIFF until you are sure you finished all the photo editing!
Although the TIFF file is smaller than the Photoshop, it is still pretty big for using in websites or sharing in social media. In that case, you will need a compressed file as the JPG.
When you select it in the “Save as” menu and click “Save”, a window will appear:
You can select the quality. The higher the quality, the bigger the file. Now you need to decide what it is more important to you on each occasion.
If you want the photos for the web, you have another option for saving them.
Go to File>Save for Web. In this panel, you will be able to select the image quality and its size. The most interesting thing is that you can put your original and the final jpg side by side (in the 2-Up tab) to see how the changes will affect it.
10. Use Photoshop Shortcuts to Save Time
My last tip is not about photo editing itself. But it saved me a lot of time sitting in front of the computer. It also simplified my photo editing flow. I highly recommend you to invest some time learning Photoshop keyboard shortcuts for the tools you use the most.
It requires some memory effort at first, but believe me: it is totally worth it. You can make a list with the shortcuts you use the most. You can have it close to you when you edit a photo to check the list when you need it.
Later on, using shortcuts will become so natural to you that you won’t need the list anymore!
Photoshop is an advanced photo editor that has many options. It is impossible to explain them all in a single article. I hope that this selection of tips will help you to learn about photo editing.
Once you get familiar with the essential tools, you can start experimenting and get more creative. Be patient at first, it takes time to master your skills. But soon you will find yourself having a lot of fun editing in Photoshop.
Once you get to grips with Photoshop, you may also want to try Lightroom. Learn more through Effortless Editing with Lightroom.